America’s Anxiety at Record High, Especially Among Trump Supporters
A new survey released Thursday by the Public Religion Research Institution (PRRI), in collaboration with the Brookings Institute, offers a window into the divisions afflicting American society, the disaffection the 2016 election has exposed, and the similarities–and intense differences–among political, racial, and generational lines. But perhaps the survey’s most valuable insight, and the analysis that followed Thursday’s presentation of the results, is why Donald Trump is the leader America’s most anxious citizens are counting on this fall.
Across a number of topics–the economy, American culture, immigration–Trump supporters expressed more anxiety than Democrats, independents, and Republicans who do not support Trump. Though a slim majority of Americans feel threatened by terrorism–51 percent of those surveyed said they were worried that they or a family member would become a victim of a terrorist act–two-thirds of Trump supporters (or 65 percent) reported terrorism-related anxiety. White working class Americans–many of whom support Trump–registered similar numbers in regards to concerns about crime. So why is Trump the man to massage the fears of America’s most anxiety-riddled?
From the perspective of Trump supporters, “there are certain things the government ought to be doing, to ensure that they have a decent chance at a life of dignity, comfort, and security,” Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said at the Brookings presentation of the paper Thursday. “They don’t believe the government is doing those things.” Aside from security, Trump supporters reported higher proportions of economic and cultural anxiety in comparison to the rest of the country.
34 percent of Trump supporters said they would be bothered by a non-white majority America, compared to 21 percent of the country as a whole (Democrats surveyed paralleled that number.) Trump supporters also reported considerably higher anxieties in terms of what they see as growing discrimination against whites, as well as the incompatibility of Islam with American values. Expectedly, Trump supporters are the most avid backers of two of his campaign’s touchstone conceits: trade deals are mostly harmful, and the U.S. should do more to protect itself from outsiders–build a wall along the border with Mexico, ban Muslims, and prohibit Syrian refugees from resettling in America.
“There is a palpable sense among white working-class voters of just personal vulnerability, of being exposed,” said Robert Jones, one of the architects of the PRRI survey, at Brookings on Thursday. Trump is tapping into that sense vulnerability that the country’s current leaders have thus far been unable to corral. The survey asked 2,607 people from across all 50 states and D.C. whether they think America is in need of a “leader willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” Seventy-two percent of Trump supporters agreed, compared with 57 percent of Republicans overall and 49 percent of America as a whole.
“If you think that the rules have been rewritten to your disfavor and that the rules have been rewritten to delegitimize you culturally, to take away from you,” explained Joy Reid, a host on MSNBC and a member on Thursday’s Brookings panel, “I think you would believe breaking the rules is completely legitimate because you don’t really believe in the rules.”